A new year is upon us and WAC play for winter sports is finally here. After some lackluster play from top to bottom in the non-conference for both men’s and women’s basketball, now is the time to make up ground and find a stride or winning streak no matter what the current state of each team is.
Looking ahead, there truly is no clear favorite for either men’s or women’s basketball, making it all the more exciting come March. As was included in the previous WAC Weekly, UVU wrestling has had some grapplers on a roll as of late, with more Big 12 conference matches ahead.
There were more downs than ups during the non-conference section for WAC men’s basketball but conference play should be full of competitive play night in and night out. As mentioned above, there is no clear favorite. Sure, New Mexico State has the players to go on a run and CBU has the best overall record, but this season should be anyone’s for the taking.
There are a handful of questions as conference play gets going, but the biggest three questions involve NMSU, Grand Canyon and UVU.
Will NMSU win both the regular season and tournament championship?
A team like the Aggies are typically dominant throughout a whole season, but injuries played a major role during the non-conference slate. Now, nearly fully healthy and starting to gel heading into conference play, NMSU looks primed for yet another championship sweep run. But, can they sweep both this year?
The biggest threat in the regular season will come from CBU, as they currently sit atop the standings. They have the potential WAC Player of the Year in junior guard Milan Acquaah and have played the most balanced basketball of any WAC team thus far. But, the Lancers are still ineligible for the tournament as they continue to make the transition to NCAA Division 1 athletics.
So, who poses a threat to knock off NMSU in the WAC tournament? Anyone who is hot at that time really. It could be GCU, Seattle University or even UVU. Any team who is on a roll and who is healthy can knock off NMSU in a tournament setting with the way this season is looking.
Can GCU bounce back from bad non-conference play?
Can the Lopes bounce back in WAC play? Yes, they absolutely have what it takes to finish in the top half. But, will the Lopes bounce back in WAC play? Probably not. While they have potential, there should be no expectation of change, as they were unable to change their bad play during the non-conference slate earlier in the season. They’ve also lost some really key games at home — a place where they typically have a big advantage.
GCU currently sits at 5-9 heading into conference play and have no injuries to any key players. They will be the real team to watch for during WAC play because of how they did play in non-conference this season versus how they typically play in conference, which is very strong.
Can UVU find their stride and make noise in the WAC?
The Wolverines have been hit hard with injuries throughout this season so far, but have still played almost every game as close as possible. They head into WAC play at 6-9 and play their first three games on the road. With everyone healthy heading into conference play, can UVU shock the conference?
UVU definitely can make noise and shock their WAC opponents if they can continue to stay healthy and do what works best for them: get out in transition. When the Wolverines get out in transition they get more open looks and easy buckets than at any other time during any game.
Sure, having good health and playing well on offense can help any team but this has been the most evident with the Wolverines all season long. Look for them to make some noise during WAC play.
As was also mentioned earlier, the non-conference was not too kind to WAC women’s basketball as well. There is also no real clear favorite and the most wins any team has right now is eight. The favorite was NMSU but they currently have a record of 4-10 and CSU Bakersfield sits in first with a record of 8-5, while UVU has a record of 3-9 and is currently riding a two-game winning streak.
WAC women’s basketball will be an even bigger mystery than the men’s when it comes to who will come out on top. The three biggest questions here involve Chicago State, CSUB and NMSU.
Will CSU win a game?
This is quite possibly the saddest story in the WAC, the winless Cougars of CSU. The Cougars have played 13 games and have lost all 13. None of them have really even been close either.
In fact, it’s been almost a full year since CSU has won a game. The good news for them is that their only two wins last season came in the WAC. So, will CSU win a game? The answer is yes, they should be able to pick up at least one conference win to end the season.
Can CSUB win the regular season title?
At this point the Roadrunners do have the best record heading into conference play, but do they have enough to win the regular season? Well, with how up-and-down each team has looked they should be considered to have the best shot at it right now.
The ‘Runners have had the most balanced play out of any WAC women’s team so far and have the guard play to carry them throughout the rest of the regular season in conference. At this point, CSUB can really only beat themselves and they should be the team to watch throughout WAC play.
Will NMSU win anything?
After the Preseason Coaches and Media Polls came out, the Aggies were the outright favorites and had a handful of players on the All-WAC first and second teams. But, as mentioned above, their current record is 4-10 and they haven’t really looked the part of being capable of winning a regular season or tournament championship.
But with a big emphasis on nearly each team having somewhat of a chance, don’t count the Aggies out yet. They’ll still more than likely land a few players on either of the All-WAC teams, and it’s always important to remember that it’s not always how you start but more about how you finish. So look to the Aggies to have a good chance at finishing strong.
The UVU wrestling team is now in full swing with Big 12 conference matches. They most recently lost a close match with conference foe Fresno State, 19-24. Before that matchup, the Wolverines had a very impressive finish at the Reno Tournament of Champions where they finished sixth out of 49 teams.
At the Reno Tournament of Champions, the Wolverines had four wrestlers place. Redshirt freshman Chase Trussell placed second in the heavyweight and 25-ranked junior Taylor LaMont placed third in 133-pound. Redshirt freshmen Jayden Woodruff at 197-pounds and Jacob Armstrong at 184-pounds placed fifth and sixth, respectively.
The two Wolverines to watch out for as Big 12 matches continue are LaMont and redshirt sophomore Tate Orndorff. LaMont recently qualified for the Olympic Trials and Orndorff has been the most consistent on the team and had some big wins and finishes so far this season.
With conference play finally here for both the WAC and the Big 12, it’s time to start watching for who will be primed to take home championships and accolades. This is the time of year when rivalry’s are turned up a notch and each play or match means a little more. So be on the lookout for great plays being made and upsets to happen, it’s time for WAC play in winter sports.
Photo by Hunter Hall